Sunday, May 24, 2009

Promise Fulfilled; Promise to Come

Luke 24:44-53

It is impossible to imagine the emotions the apostles must have been experiencing at Bethany as Jesus was preparing to depart from this earth. It had not been that long before when all hope seemed lost, as the life was quite literally being beaten from Jesus’ body before He was finally hung on the Cross and left to hang until dead. This was Messiah, the Promised One, who talked a good show, made a lot of promises, told some great stories, and performed a lot of pretty neat tricks, but one day this “Son of God” gets man-handled all the way to His doom – or what appeared to be His doom. It was so bad, the doom and gloom so thick, the hopelessness so apparent, that many fled. There was nothing left to hang around for – it was over. Done. Finished.

Those who fled lived in fear in the ensuing days prior to that first Easter, fear that all which had befallen Jesus would soon come upon them because of their devotion to Him. The group behind the arrest and Crucifixion of Jesus was not a very forgiving bunch, so it was not unreasonable to assume that what happened to Jesus would soon happen to all who had professed allegiance to Him. Imagine living in such a state of fear as to be virtually paralyzed only to discover that you were wrong about the demise of Messiah, that something remarkable, if miraculous, has taken place, beyond description, certainly beyond “neat trick”!

A Promise had been fulfilled right before their very eyes, the New Covenant made manifest in the Resurrection of the Christ that would leave no doubt that “though one may die, so may he live” (John 11:25). The reality of this Promise has arrived, has been fulfilled, and has been made manifest in the presence of the Risen Christ. But now He is leaving yet again, only the circumstances are not quite the same as before. He is leaving us with a few words and is issuing yet another Promise that “help is on the way” very soon; we need only the patience, faith, and courage to hold on and wait. We have just witnessed the Reality of Eternal Life, and we have been redeemed from the bondage of our sins. What other “help” can we possibly need?

Very clearly, the story is still unfolding. While it might seem that the Ascension would be pretty close to the end of the Story, as it needs to be told, the truth is the Story is not quite finished. There is much more to see, much more to learn, much more to do, much more even to endure. And life on this earth, for the faithful, is going to get much harder – and also easier – because of the words that Jesus not only left them with at Bethany (“wait until you are clothed with power from on high”) but also because of the words Jesus imparted to them according to Matthew’s Gospel (in addition to the others): “They will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake” (24:9).

It occurred to me that if we are not standing firm in the faith, we will endure no real challenges, no real hassles. There will be no “hatred”, no name-calling, no tribulation by the hands of non-believers. However, if the Church stands firm in thousands of years of human history and tradition and refuses to bend and flex according to the world’s standards and the world’s demands, there will be much “wailing and knashing of teeth” among the non-believers. Consider the recent slander of Miss California who dared to stand firm in her faith and express what she believed to be true. She did not thrust this belief on the world; the world demanded to know. And she was all but burned at the stake for what she believes.

Another case in point: the French First Lady has taken to blaming Pope Benedict for her loss of faith. She claims that the Church’s teachings have left her feeling “profoundly secular”, and she continues the criticism that was leveled against John Paul II regarding artificial birth control and AIDS in Africa. She claims that this particular means of birth control is the “only existing protection”, and these many continue to suggest that AIDS would simply go away if the Church will simply shut up.

Now I quite frankly do not care what many believe or think about birth control, but I do care that we all acknowledge there is something much more sinister at work here than whether or not Africans use birth control. Those who criticize the Church fail to see the “big picture”, but the Church – and specifically the pope – are taking a lot of flak over its teachings. Would it be easier to simply succumb to the world’s demands? Of course it would be easier and many Protestant churches have done exactly that, but Jesus did not call us to a life of ease or leisure. And it appears to me that there wouldn’t be much of a difference anyway. Several methods of birth control already exist, and so do unplanned pregnancies, AIDS, and other STD’s. Other biblical prohibitions against certain behaviors also exist, but that does not seem to stop the many from violating these prohibitions. So why the fight over merely condoms? It seems to me that we cannot see the forest for the trees.

It also seems ironic that an unbelieving world has accused Christianity of “creating [a] god in man’s own image” while desperately seeking to create for themselves a “god” more pleasing to their own ideals and standards; a “god” that will allow them to live as they see fit, do “it” (whatever “it” may happen to be on a particular day) as long as it “feels good”, a “god” that will expect little from them but will ultimately demand so much more from them than they will ever be willing to give.

But I digress. What the Church is called to do goes far beyond one doctrinal belief about one particular thing and while birth control is not mentioned in the Bible, those acts which cause unintended pregnancies and AIDS are specifically mentioned in the Bible, but the world seems intent on demanding that the Church remain silent about even these things. Even still, where are our duties defined? And do we even need to be talking about such things? What matters most? What is the point of the apostles being “clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49b) if we are called to make peace with the world, tell the world what it wants to hear rather than what it needs to hear, assimilate ourselves into the worldly culture, and simply remain silent on those points at which we disagree? I don’t think we need ‘power from on high’ to sit on our hands. And it seems clear that Promises coming from Christ for the days to come do not involve our silence, our inactivity, or our complacency.

In Luke 12:35-48 Jesus tells the parable of the Faithful Servant and the Evil Servant. Long story short, Jesus ends the parable with this: “for everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more” (48).

This leaves the faithful with these two questions: how much has been given to us, and how much are we willing to give in return?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Congress the shepherd: pity the sheep

The president will sign a bill into law this week that will essentially end some unfair credit practices lenders have initiated over the years which many consumers had no protection against. These practices include interest rates going sky-high overnight and virtually without notice because a customer is late with a payment (even just once) or exceeds the credit limit which, incidentally, is not likely to happen except when one is charged extra fees for late payments. These fees are added to the total balance and if that balance exceeds the credit limit, one is then hammered not only for the late payment but is now also on the hook for a “exceeding the credit limit” penalty. It is all, of course, in the fine print.

The horror stories are many, and credit card companies are the bad guys. Never mind that Americans voluntarily signed up for such practices but never bothered to read the fine print. What they got was a credit card that enabled them to buy stuff they could not previously afford. Well, guess what? It turns out they couldn’t afford the stuff after all! Believe me; I know of which I speak because “they” was “me” and thousands of other consumers who lacked the patience, the diligence, and the discipline required to save for such purchases. And it is not incidental that money saved is money loaned and money earned on these loans. Win-Win, as they say. Wiser consumers understand that if one cannot afford to put aside a little money each week or each month to save, it is highly unlikely that one can afford a new monthly payment obligation. Elementary, we shudda thunk.

Now US Senator Mark Pryor, D-AR, is going to hold hearings this summer to monitor the credit card industry’s response to this legislation. The industry is certainly going to have to make some adjustments, to be sure, because there will likely be certain losses associated with this congressional clamp. In this regard, Congress did the right thing. Sad, still, that the American consumer needs be protected from himself. What Sen. Pryor is expecting to discover is that credit card issuers will likely tighten requirements for qualification, might re-implement annual fees just for the privilege of having the credit card and may even charge interest from day one after a credit purchase is made. And “that right there”, said Sen. Pryor, “is the problem with the credit card industry …” (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 5/21/09, pg 8a).

Sorry, Mr. Pryor, but “that right there” is not the problem. It was not that many years ago when it was not so easy to obtain a credit card. It was not that many years ago when all users paid an annual fee. And it still is that if one takes out a short-term loan from a bank, interest is charged on the loan in addition to other fees originating from day one. Once the bank cuts the check, the borrower is on the hook for the amount borrowed in addition to the fees and interest. It is how lenders make money, it is how the credit markets work, and there is nothing unfair about any of it. So what is “punitive” about a credit card issuer doing the same? If a purchase is made on a credit card, it is essentially borrowed money; no one I know of gets “free” loans. Credit costs money although judging by what this government spends, regardless of incoming revenue, Congress may not actually know this.

The worst idea to ever invade this country is revolving credit accounts. Those who were able to sell more stuff on these types of credit accounts likely believed them to be a boon to the economy and to their bottom line. They were moving more merchandise and making money hand-over-fist. Consumers could suddenly “afford” to purchase more and more … until the bills came due and the compounded interest on these revolving accounts in addition to the “other” purchases made because there was still “available credit” left on the card made the debt virtually impossible to pay off. And here we are today.

Few would dare to argue that any business practice must be above board, and any loan contract must contain all necessary information relevant to charges and the repayment of the loan. And credit cards themselves are not such a bad idea, but revolving accounts should be eliminated entirely because it is clear these types of accounts cannot be managed because these types of accounts never seem to go away. These are perpetual debts that make money on top of money month after month … with no end in sight except for those who can make payments larger than the required minimum. There is nothing good that can come from these types of accounts even if it is that stores may not move merchandise at previous levels when consumers were spending money they did not have for crap they did not need and could not save up for in the first place.

Whether Congress can actually protect the American consumer from his own stupidity and naiveté remains to be seen, but it does not mean they will not try. And in the end, what we could not previously afford will end up costing much more than anyone could ever have anticipated.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Public Debate ... or not

Carrie Prejean, Miss California and recent Miss USA runner-up, is now being considered for replacement in her capacity as Miss California. The firestorm began, of course, when she chose a truthful answer in the Miss USA pageant rather than a politically correct or socially popular (if questionable) one. How one feels about the whole gay marriage thing is not relevant to Ms. Prejean’s honest answer: she was asked for her opinion, which she gave. What she did not know, although she may have suspected, was that the homo who asked the question, Perez Hilton, was either deliberately trying to set her up or was seeking an endorsement from a potentially soon-to-be national celebrity. He may have believed he had a weak-minded “beauty queen” who would say or do anything to win and help to further his own personal political agenda. He would never have suspected he was likely dealing with a person with some sense of moral integrity and a mind of her own. And his intellect was revealed the very next day when he apparently sought to engage in public debate over the whole issue by calling Ms. Prejean a “dumb bitch”. Nice.

Now the Miss California organization has taken their own “bold step” to seek Ms. Prejean’s replacement because Miss California is currently, and wisely, laying low. Considering the firestorm that followed the Miss USA pageant and the venom and bile that has spewed forth from the likes of Hilton and other Hollywood voices who all apparently believe in one’s “rights” only if one is in agreement with them, Ms. Prejean – and the Miss California crew - would be foolish not to consider her physical safety and well-being. Homosexual advocates are flirting with legislation on the federal level now that extends hate-crime legislation to include speech, but they are only serious about it if someone says something mean about homos; they don’t mean themselves. They advocate for this ridiculous legislation that is a direct affront to one’s constitutional free-speech rights, and then violate the very spirit of the legislation they seek to endorse to the extent that a young woman would reasonably fear for her own safety. The Miss California organization is trying to use her “absence” as an excuse to replace her because she cannot fulfill her official and public duties while in hiding. Nice.

Now there are some ‘racy’ photos floating around the ‘net that Ms. Prejean did some time back as a model. I’ve seen the photos; they are no “racier” than the swimsuit competition. Let’s get real. There is no honest debate going on, and there can be no respect. The homos and their advocates fully intend to bully and intimidate not only Ms. Prejean but her potential replacement into towing the homo line. There is nothing “gay” about any of this. Pitiful. Just pitiful.